The era of private space travel may finally be here as the world witnessed a second billionaire launching into suborbital flight in less than 10 days.
A Blue Origin capsule carrying the world's richest person Jeff Bezos and three crewmates touched down in the West Texas desert after breaching the boundary of space, the company's live broadcast showed. The spaceship floated down on three giant parachutes before firing a retro thruster, sending up a cloud of sand as it gently landed at one or two miles (kilometers) an hour.
"A very happy group of people in this capsule," said Bezos.
The rocket lifted off from a base in the West Texas desert at approximately 8:12 a.m. local time (1:12 p.m. GMT) after a brief hold. The American billionaire set off from a desert site on an 11-minute voyage to the edge of space, nine days after Briton Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic's successful inaugural suborbital flight.
Branson got to space first, but Bezos was going to fly higher – 62 miles (100 km) for Blue Origin compared to 53 miles (86 km) for Virgin Galactic – in what experts call the world's first.
Bezos, founder of e-commerce juggernaut Amazon, and his brother and private equity executive Mark Bezos were joined on the flight by two others. Pioneering female aviator Wally Funk and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, became the oldest and youngest people to reach space.
"I am excited, but not anxious. We'll see how I feel when I'm strapped into my seat," Bezos said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Monday.
"We're ready. The vehicle's ready. This team is amazing. I feel very good about it. And I think my fellow crewmates feel good about it, too."
Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s but was passed over because of her gender.
Daemen, Blue Origin's first paying customer, is set to attend the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management in September. His father heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners.
Barring technical or weather-related delays, New Shepard was set to blast off around 8 a.m. CDT (1 p.m. GMT) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One facility about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural Texas town of Van Horn.
New Shepard is a 60-foot-tall (18.3-meters-tall) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo that cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft. It is completely computer-flown and had none of Blue Origin's staff astronauts or trained personnel onboard.
In contrast, Virgin Galactic used a space plane with a pair of pilots on board.
New Shepard hurtled at speeds upwards of 2,200 miles (3,540 km) per hour to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) to the so-called Karman Line, which has been classified by an international aeronautics body as the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space.
During the flight, the crew unbuckled for a few minutes of weightlessness and gazed back at the Earth's curvature through what Blue Origin calls the largest windows ever used in space travel. Then, the capsule fell back to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expelled a "pillow of air" for a soft landing at 1 mph (1.6 km/h) in the Texas desert.
The reusable booster returned to the launch pad using drag brakes and ring and wedge fins for stabilization.
Tuesday's launch marks another landmark in the "billionaire's race" to establish a space tourism sector that Swiss investment bank UBS estimates will reach $3 billion annually in a decade. Another billionaire tech mogul, Elon Musk, plans to send an all-civilian crew on an even more ambitious flight in September: a several-day orbital mission on his Crew Dragon capsule.
On Twitter, Musk wished the Blue Origin crew "best of luck" for the launch.
Best of luck tomorrow!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2021
Blue Origin has not offered details on its longer-term pricing strategy or how quickly it will ramp up the frequency of its launches. Chief Executive Bob Smith has said the next flight is likely in September or October. Smith said the "willingness to pay continues to be quite high" for people interested in future flights.
The company appears to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries entered an auction to become the first paying customer, though the auction winner who made a $28 million bid ultimately dropped out of Tuesday's flight.
Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, has a net worth of $206 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He stepped down this month as Amazon CEO but remains its executive chairperson.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.